Thursday, March 22, 2012

Overworked Students and Food Food Food

So, my third week as a teacher is almost over and some things have happened.

First of all, I was sick all week thanks to one of the little munchkins, and I hope this doesn't become a pattern because teaching while sick is a major bummer.  It's hard to lead a class when you don't have a voice, and harder still when you have to duck out of the room every five minutes to blow your nose (I overheard my co-worker telling her class "Either Andy has a cold or there is an elephant outside!).  But as Friday rolls in, I'm finally feeling better, so I figure a blog post is necessary.

Today I'll finish working through the books that we were given when we first started, and so yesterday I went and asked my principal what book I should begin using next week.  "Oh, just look through the library, we have lots of books in there."  So three weeks in and I have complete flexibility on what I can teach my classes.  This is exciting, and daunting at the same time.  I have a really hard time judging where a lot of my students rank in their English speaking ability, and after looking through a ton of different books I'm still not sure which one to pick.  So I've decided to experiment with various ones, and hope I land on one that works and that students also enjoy.

Speaking of students' enjoyment- they don't enjoy much.  The poor kiddos come to me after a full day of school, and many of them go to other private schools or after school activities before I see them.  So by the time they plop down in their desks in my little classroom, they're all hungry, cranky and tired.  I played hangman with a class last week and one student chose as her clue "I hate Kim Yong Jin English Language School."  I had to commend her on her English ability, but I felt bad for her at the same time.  It's a big struggle to get a lot of my students engaged, and I can tell they don't want to be here at all.  It's hard to strike a balance between being a 'fun' teacher and actually teaching them worthwhile information, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to perfect it.  But as long as I can get my students smiling just a little bit while they use English, I feel a bit better about forcing them to learn.

On other fronts, living in South Korea is great.  The food continues to be shockingly cheap, unless its western food.  For example, we bought a huge bag of lettuce, 2 pounds or so of carrots and a large bushel of green onions for only 5,000 won (less than $5.00).  However, it costs the same amount to buy one small tub of cream cheese, so we're struggling to change our habits while still retaining some of the comforts of home.  So while we've had to cut down on our bagel intake, we've upped the amount of eggs we eat tenfold (we go through about 30 a week).  Bread is much more plentiful than we expected, but almost all of it is very sweet.  Lots of things that shouldn't be are sweet actually, as Ashley says "everything is sweet here except the desserts!"

The weather also plays a lot bigger role in our days than it did back home.  Because we don't have a car and walk 20 minutes to work each day, rainy days are much more frustrating and sunny days that much more welcome.  I was able to steal an adorable bright yellow umbrella that one of the students left behind, complete with plenty of "Konglish" (Korean-English) phrases and a lovely orange frill.

But enough about the weather, and more about the food.  Eating here is a daily adventure, as we can only read about 25% of any given menu.  Last night we found an orange shop with an English menu and we were in heaven.  We'll definitely be visiting that one again.  Orange shops are everywhere here- they specialize in a food called kimbap that looks like sushi but has no raw fish inside.  Instead, its typically made with spam, processed fish cake, pickled radish and carrots all wrapped in rice(bap) and seaweed(kim).  They have them with many other types of fillings, but the one I just described is always available and always super cheap (less than a dollar).  They also have plenty of other standard Korean fare, and its never over 4000 won (so less than 4 dollars for a dish).  It's a little like American diners in that they always have about the same menu, but they're much healthier (or so I like to imagine).  I've fallen in love with one dish called yache mandu ddeokbokki, basically the ddeokbokki I mentioned in an earlier post with dumplings and vegetables thrown in.  YUM.  Here's a link to a translated menu if you A: want to know what kind of food you can get for cheap when you come visit me or B: stumbled upon this blog while living in Korea and would like to navigate the complicated orange shops yourself.

That's enough babbling for now, more later!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

First Week of Teaching

So today's the last day of my first week of classes, and that means its time for an update.

On Monday, we were finally hooked up to the internet (this was the cable guy's third time at our apartment, and hopefully the last).  We have really high speed broadband, a home telephone, and cable TV-which we can barely understand and probably won't use much since it's in Korean.

As soon as the cable guy left, we went to our first day of school.  Now we're starting to learn that in Korea, you have to be ready to roll with the punches.  The schedule we got on Friday was very different from the one we were presented with on Monday, and the lessons we had planned to teach were all mixed up.  So after some hectic planning and photocopying, I was finally prepared to teach my first class... of one student.

My school is a hagwon, or a private tutoring academy.  Our hours are from 1:30-7:40pm, so students come see us after their normal school days are over.  And since the hagwon just opened on Monday, lots of classes are empty or near empty still, hence the fact that I have two classes with only one student.  Luckily, I worked as a tutor for 5-6 months right before I came to Korea, so the one-on-one was something I was very familiar with.  I actually really enjoyed my first student, a very bright boy in the second grade who was eager to learn and participated very well.

I had two more classes later in the day of older students that were met with varying success.  I've found that the older students are (we only teach elementary students, so about ages 7-13), the harder it is to get them participating.  You have to sort of force them to raise their hands, call them out directly to get them to answer questions, and mix up the classroom activities so nobody falls asleep on you.  But each day has been better than the last, and I've found that I really enjoy teaching.  It's fun to see what works and what doesn't, try new things, and try to keep students engaged and smiling.

Our school is also amazing.  We've heard a lot of horror stories about working at private schools, and we were pretty certain we weren't going to be one of them since we had spoken extensively with Beth and Jess prior to coming to Daegu.  Still, there was a bit of trepidation, but after seeing the school and experiencing a few days teaching all of our worries were put aside.  The facilities are excellent, the classrooms are brand spanking new and really pretty (see some pictures below), and our coworkers are wonderful.  On Wednesday, our boss even bought every teacher Starbucks- which is even more impressive when you remember how expensive it is in Korea (around 5-6 dollars for a drink!).

We've had no trouble making friends as well, there are lots of other teachers new to the city who are all fun to hang out with and come from all over the English speaking world.  Our new friends hail from Ireland, South Africa, the UK, Canada and New Zealand, as well as a healthy smattering of Americans.  And the food, as usual, is AMAZING.  We have yet to have a bad meal here, and that's pretty great considering most of our meals involve us going to a restaurant and pointing to an item that looks to be in our price range.  My favorites so far have been jajangmyeon, (basically "Korean" Chinese food), haejangguk (or "hangover soup" in English, complete with an entire ox tail) and the ever present samgyeopsal that you've probably tasted if you've ever tried Korean barbecue.  Everything is always served with a million side dishes, or banchan, which nearly always include kimchi as well as pickled radishes and some other vegetables prepared in the individual restaurants unique style.  It's a good thing we have to walk 20 minutes to work each day, because otherwise I'd have gained a few hundred pounds already.

So since I have to go back to lesson planning, that about wraps up this blogpost.  But I hope to continue updating, especially once we're able to start traveling.  This weekend, we are invited to our director's daughter's first birthday party, which should be a blast and a very interesting experience.

I'll leave you all with some pictures of our school, just so you can see how pretty it is yourself!
Ashley's classroom, and the front desk of our school

The view out the window of our 6th floor of the school.  The street on the right is full of hundreds of vendors every Monday for a weekly traditional market, very fun and lots of great produce and street food.

My classroom entrance

I caught Ashley while she was preparing her next lesson in her classroom, which is identical to mine

Friday, March 2, 2012

And the Rest of Week One

So our internet is still not connected, and to make a long story short it sounds like we won't get hooked up until Monday. Very frustrating, apparently this is the exception as everyone has told us that they were hooked up within 2 days after arriving with no problems. I guess we just have had bad luck.

On Tuesday afternoon, we went to see Beth and Jess teach. They were teaching 5th and 6th graders, which are elementary school students here. Some of their classes are being turned over to us on Monday, so it was a great opportunity to see how things were done. They're both pretty awesome teachers, and we learned a lot about what ability the students are at and how best to engage them. Really, the classes are geared towards engaging students in conversations, and getting them comfortable using English. After that was over, we were pretty exhausted (as usual here, we've been doing a ton of walking), and I was starving- so we went to one of the pizza places Jess and Beth recommended: Pizza Bingo! The pizza wasn't very good, was covered with some sort of sauce, and for some reason every single pizza here has corn on it- which nobody can really explain.

This was the exact "pizza" we ordered at Pizza Bingo. Sounds much better than it looks

The next day we had plans to go grocery shopping with Beth at Home Plus, which is like a target or wal-mart but much much larger. It was great going with someone who already knew the lay of the land, as she was able to tell us what most things were and what sort of things she had tried. The best part was getting there and back- we could have taken the metro but it's about a 15 minute walk from our place and costs 1100 won apiece (about $1), but instead we shared a taxi that only cost 2400! That's like a little over 2 dollars, which split between the three of us was definitely affordable, and it was a much easier way of getting all our groceries back to our apartment.

Wednesday night we went to Jess and Beth's apartment which was very nice. Nearly everyone here lives in high-rises very similar to ours, and they've had a lot of time to make their's really comfortable. I left Ashley there for a girls night of burritos and wine, while Jess and I went out for Korean barbecue near Kimyueng University on the West side of the city with a couple of his friends. I've never had Korean barbecue, but it was INCREDIBLE. Like bacon on steroids, and you wrap the charred and cooked meat in a lettuce leaf, slather it with this spicy bean paste and cover it with garlic and onions (cooked in pork fat of course) shove it into your mouth and wash it down with some crappy light beer. Best of all, the price for a TON of food and a lot of beer was only 40,000 won for four people, so less than 10 bucks apiece. Gotta love it. After that we went to an arcade down the street and hit up some batting cages, then finished the night at a foreigner bar called Sydney Street owned by Australians before heading home.

The next day Jess and Beth took us to downtown Daegu, and holy moly was it overwhelming. Lights and music everywhere, with more smells and sights and stimulation than I could handle. We had some awesome street food, including something called ddoekboggi which is now my new obsession- it's processed fish cake and some sort of rice cake cooked in this spicy/sweet red sauce that honest'y doesn't look or sound very good but ohmygoodness it tasted amazing.

Ddoek-boggi (pronounced dahk-bok-ee) in all its glory

Getting around here is a bit difficult since there are no street names, but thankfully Daegu isn't super gigantic so you can learn by experience. I think it'll take us a few more weeks to get comfortable downtown, but that's not a problem since there's so much to do we'll definitely be heading back there soon. We wrapped up the day with dinner at a place whose name I can't remember that served this chicken stew type thing that was also amazing. I can't get over how good the food is here, there's a ton of variety and I have yet to eat something I didn't like. Almost all the food is served family style too, which means you get to try a little of everything and it comes with unlimited banchan (sides) which are always really good- usually some pickled radish, always kimchi, super sweet pickles which Ashley hates (and I love), bean sprouts and lots of other delicious varieties of pickled vegetables.

Another thing that's wild here is how safe things are, especially in our part of town. We regularly see tiny adorable children walking around the city, even after dark (think like 5 and 6 year olds) with no supervision! It's definitely a shock, there are even steps in all the elevators so they can reach the buttons. Very refreshing compared to other parts of the world.

Today, we went to school to do... we weren't sure. Plans seem to change last minute here all the time, and Koreans seem to only feel the need to tell foreigners about half of what is going on. We thought we were going to go get medical checks in order to get our Alien registration card, followed by lunch out with our director and his family, but instead we were training for our new job (which we had thought we were doing later on in the day). It all worked out though, we were trained by Beth and Jess (they're the only other foreign teachers at our school). They explained our schedule for us, helped us learn how to plan lessons, taught us a lot of tricks to make our students feel more comfortable and to pronounce their names correctly, and gave us good advice on how to deal with our co-workers and bosses. Our direct supervisor is the Principal of the new school for younger students that will open on Monday, Ms. Lee, and she's really sweet. However, most of our coteachers get very... giggly around us, as if they're not very comfortable speaking English with native speakers.

Our work hours are from 1:30-7:40, but since the school for youngsters is just about to open there aren't many students enrolled. I only have one class of 1-4 graders, and that class only has one student in it, and Ashley has 3 classes each with a very small amount of students. However, we both have two later classes each day with 5-10 higher level students from grades 5 and 6. Apparently this will change very rapidly, as students will continue to be enrolled as the semester goes on, so we may find that when we come to work on Monday we have many more students than we thought, and that number can increase during the semester. Nevertheless, I have loaded up my kindle in preparation for several class periods in which I won't have any students to teach.

Anyways, there's a lot we still don't know, but Ashley and I are super excited to begin teaching! The school is incredibly nice, all the facilities are brand new and very modern. We got to pick out our own classrooms (well Ashley got to pick, and I got the other one :)). It seems pretty simple, and the students all seem very fun and bubbly.

This weekend we're planning to head downtown to try and do some used furniture shopping for our apartment- my Korean is improving a lot each day (I can read about half of what I see now) and so hopefully we'll be able to say gga-gga-chusayo (discount please) and get some good deals!

The First Day in Daegu

We're still without internet, so my access to the neighbor's wifi is spotty. The guy came to install it today, but for some reason or another he's going to have to come back tomorrow or Thursday, so we'll be getting hooked up by the end of the week. We got a great night's sleep last night (neither of us slept much on the flight), and woke up early today. Our apartment is really neat, its on the top floor of the building so we have a really great view of the mountains (see the photo above). It was pretty dirty when we moved in (apparently people don't clean up when they move out in South Korea) so this morning we wandered around until we found what looked like a convenience store and bought windex and paper towels so we could wipe down the bathroom, fridge and cabinets before we moved our stuff in. It's really well furnished, and Mr. Kim, our director and boss, was nice enough to supply us with cooking supplies and utensils (pots/pans, silverware, mugs) and he even had a loaf of white bread and some cream cheese in our fridge when we got here so we didn't have to venture out to eat this morning!

We knew the cable guy was supposed to come between 11 and 11:30, so we were surprised when we opened the door at 11 to find Beth and Jess! They're even nicer than we thought- they helped us negotiate with the cable guy and then took us out around town. We started with the Trash system which is very complicated, they sort it into like 5 different categories but we think we've got it mostly figured out. They showed us how to get to our school from our apartment, took us out to lunch at a kim-bap place (they're everywhere here- kim-bap is kinda like sushi but without the fish part, it had egg, fish cake, spam and stuff inside) and showed us how to order (and pay), and then took us to E-Mart (like a Target, the other big one here is called HomePlus, and then there is also Costco). We got some basic stuff like a shower rod/curtain, hangers, and more cleaning supplies.

Tonight we're going to sit in on Beth and Jess's classes at 5:00 pm, and then who knows what after that. We're both pretty exhausted already, but are really enjoying it here. On first impressions- its a lot more like the good ole USA than I thought, except everyone's korean!

Updates soon.

The South Korean Adventures Begin

So I've decided to dust off this space and re-purpose it. Why? Because I just moved to South Korea to teach English, and I'd like a simple way to share my experiences with my friends and family, as well as anyone else who may be interested.

A little background, I moved here (Daegu, South Korea) with my girlfriend Ashley Ozery just one week ago (check out the link for her own blog). We both had trouble getting jobs fresh out of college, and our backup plan became our main plan, and now we're here! We found the job through a friend of a friend, who hooked us up with a married couple whose names are Beth and Jess. They have been absolutely incredible in getting us the job, getting our apartment set up, and once we got here showing us around and helping us with every and any thing we could ask for. They teach at the same school that we do, and have already been teaching there for a year and a half. Next Monday, the school is expanding to include younger students, and that's who we'll be teaching.

So what will follow for now is just a few emails I wrote to my family about our first few days here in Daegu. It's a little haphazard, but hopefully understandable. In the future, I plan to update everyone through here, and I also hope to include lots more pictures and descriptions of life in South Korea.

Hope you enjoy!